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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Thousands flee to Sudan’s main seaport, seeking ships to safety

By Ruth Maclean and Vivian Nereim

Thousands of people have descended on a port city in eastern Sudan in recent days, fleeing the violence in the capital and trying to secure their escape aboard vessels heading over the Red Sea to Saudi Arabia.

The coastal city of Port Sudan — the country’s biggest seaport — has been transformed into a hub for those displaced by the war, with people using cloth and chairs to construct makeshift tents, packing a local amusement park for shelter and waiting for help in three-digit heat.

Saudi Arabia has played a central role in the evacuation, extricating more than 5,000 foreigners from Sudan since the fighting erupted just over two weeks ago between the forces of two rival Sudanese generals. Saudi Arabia is one of the closest countries to Sudan — less than 150 miles across the Red Sea — and has the means to manage a large-scale evacuation.

The operation also fit efforts by the kingdom’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, to position Saudi Arabia as a rising global power and neutral mediator. Saudi officials have relationships with both of Sudan’s warring generals, and Saudi Arabia is a member of the four-country group that tried and failed to steer Sudan to civilian-led rule.

Although international evacuations are now focused on Port Sudan, tens of thousands more people have fled by land into Chad, Egypt and South Sudan since the conflict erupted between the Sudanese army and the Rapid Support Forces, a paramilitary group.

At least 50,000 people have left Sudan since the fighting began, according to the United Nations, and the violence has killed more than 500 civilians, according to the World Health Organization. The true number of casualties is likely much higher.

The conflict has thrust Africa’s third-largest nation into chaos, with many people displaced but unsure of how to escape the violence. A three-day extension to the latest cease-fire was announced Sunday, but heavy fighting was still reported in the capital, Khartoum, including an accusation from the Rapid Support Forces, or RSF, that the army was shelling its positions.

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